Serbia and Albania face UEFA charge over abandoned Euro qualifier
Belgrade: Serbia's Euro 2016 qualifier against Albania was abandoned on Tuesday evening after a drone flown over the Partizan Stadium pitch carrying a pro-Albanian banner led to a clash between the two teams.
Serbian defender Stefan Mitrovic grabs the flag with Albanian national symbols flown by a remotely operated drone during the UEFA Euro 2016 Group I qualifying match against Albania in Belgrade on Tuesday. Pics/Getty Images
The Group I game erupted into controversy shortly before half-time when the banner attached to the drone, apparently flown in by remote control from fans outside the stadium, was brought down by Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic. That seemed to upset a number of Albania players, several of whom attempted to intercept the black banner, which contained the Albanian flag in the centre.
It prompted a melee involving numerous players and forced English referee Martin Atkinson to lead the teams off the field, after some disruption off the pitch as well.
UEFA to investigate
There were no signs of play being restarted more than half an hour after the suspension, with UEFA then confirming the match had been abandoned. UEFA match delegate Hari Bin confirmed the governing body will investigate what transpired.
Serbia goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic (left) punches an Albanian player
Quoted by Serbian media, including the popular Sportske website, he said: "You saw what happened and at this point I cannot speculate further as to who was responsible and accountable. UEFA will take further steps on the basis of the official report."
Albanian supporters had been banned from entering the stadium by UEFA on safety grounds and the match was set against a backdrop of tight security.
Serbian fans burn a NATO flag at the Partizan Stadium in Belgrade
Tensions have never been far from the surface between the nations over Kosovo, the province with which both countries share a disputed border and is recognised as independent by the United States and major European Union countries but not by Serbia.
The tie was goalless at the time of the suspension and clear-cut chances were in short supply in the Serbian capital.
There seemed to be no immediate threat to the match, with numerous players taking a drinks break as the drone flew harmlessly over the pitch.
Riot policemen arrive to secure the pitch at the Partizan
However, that changed when Mitrovic attempted to bring down the banner that was attached to the drone, which infuriated some of the Albania players.
Following a skirmish, the situation appeared to escalate as the Albanian players were reportedly the target when objects were thrown on to the pitch, which led to Atkinson leading the players down the tunnel.